Scientists found a better way to grow a 3D liver tissue from stem cells

It is a terrible situation when your life depends on others. But that is how a lot of people awaiting organ transplant are feeling. They are carrying a huge weight on their shoulders, waiting for a matching donor. A lot of people die before a suitable donor is found. But scientists from the University of Edinburgh say that one day lab-grown liver tissue could replace the need for transplants.

Stem cells arrange themselves in 3D structures when some sort of scaffold is offered. Image credit: Department of Histology, Jagiellonian University Medical College via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Growing organs in laboratories is a huge goal for scientific community. It would really save a lot of lives, because donors would not be needed. Furthermore, tissues would be grown using stem cells from the patient, which would reduce the chances of rejection. And the work towards this goal has already started. Scientists turned stem cells into liver cells in the lab. Then they implanted them into mice with liver disease. This was not easy, because lab-grown cells formed tiny balls in the dish, but did not create a 3D structure that is the liver tissue. Scientists discovered that some scaffold materials are needed to provide a backbone for these structures.

Researchers identified the most suitable material for this scaffold and created a fibre mesh that was one centimetre square and just a few millimetres thick. Scientists used human stem cells that were grown in the lab for 60 days before loading on to the mesh scaffold to form a 3D structure. Then they were implanted under the skin of mice with a potentially fatal genetic disease called tyrosinaemia. Mice with these implants sowed fewer signs of liver damage, lost less weight and had fewer toxins in their blood. Scientists say that this shows how liver tissue grown from stem cells can be used to treat tyrosinaemia, which the fifth biggest killer in the UK.

Transplant is usually the only option in liver disease, but waiting lists are very long. Many people die due to liver failure while waiting for a suitable donor. Dr Rob Buckle, one of the authors of the research, said: “Showing that such stem-cell derived tissue is able to reproduce aspects of liver function in the lab also offers real potential to improve the testing of new drugs where more accurate models of human tissue are needed”.

However, while these breakthroughs did not make their way into hospitals, you should still consider becoming a donor. It costs nothing and can save lives. Research how you can become a donor in your country.

 

Source: University of Edinburgh


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